Is it April 20th yet? Because there's two teams in the NBA that may think it is. The Golden State Warriors and Indiana Pacers gave the sports world something to talk about when a brawl broke out in the fourth quarter of Tuesday night's game. I say "brawl" but for the sake of being rational lets call it a scuffle. We all know what a Pacer's "brawl" looks like, and let's hope to never see the likes of that again. But as Tuesday nights fight did not result in any fans getting knocked out by Jermaine O'Neal, let's look at the positive side of this situation for both teams. They look ready for the NBA Playoffs.
In one corner we have the Golden State Warriors. Currently sitting in sixth place in the West, the Warriors have their sights set on making the playoffs for only the second time in 19 years. This season's roster is a young one with the average age being only 26, and the lone player in their 30's being veteran Forward Richard Jefferson. What this team may lack in experience, it makes up for with high energy and a lethal array of long-range shooters that have tied them for second in the league in three-point shooting percentage.
Golden State Coach Mark Jackson is the definition of "old school" and Tuesday night's scuffle shows that his team is buying in and not backing down from anyone. Earlier this season Jackson displayed exactly the type of pride he's trying to instill in his team. Deep in the fourth quarter of a game against the Houston Rockets, with the score far out of reach, the Rockets continued attempting three-point shots to try and break the all-time record for most in a game. The prideful Jackson would not have his team be a part of that highlight reel. He instructed his players to continue fouling the Rocket's shooters and send them to the line instead of facing the embarrassment the franchise was potentially heading for. The players no doubt appreciated their coach looking out for them.
Tuesday night the Warrior's showed they could look out for one another.
Forward David Lee has been having one of his best years as a pro averaging 11 rebounds and almost 20 points a game and he was well on his way to a double-double again when the shoving started in the paint. As the pushing began to escalate, Guard Stephen Curry came running straight into the fray to have his teammates back, getting thrown to the ground a couple times in the process. After the teams were separated the cameras caught a moment of acknowledgment between Lee and Curry, that shows almost a palpable sense of trust growing between the two players. You think these two are ready to go to war together once the Playoffs start? It sure looks that way.
Now in the red corner we have the Indiana Pacers. The impressive small-market team is sitting in second-place in the East and represents perhaps the biggest threat to the Miami Heat returning to the NBA Finals. Over the last couple seasons the Pacers have done an excellent job adding key pieces to their team and developing the young talent they already have. Add to the equation that one of their best players in Danny Granger made his season debut just this week off a knee injury, and this becomes a team to be reckoned with in late April.
Perhaps the biggest edge the Pacers will have come Playoff time is their mental game. They seem to know how to get into the heads of their opponents, and because of this, extracurricular activity often occurs involving players on the opposing team. In last year's Playoff match-up with the Heat, Danny Granger and LeBron James had several run-ins, and if the Pacers hope to beat them this year they'll need Granger to try and rattle the already questioned psyche of "The King". The Hansbrough brothers (Ben and Tyler) have also seen their share of dust ups this year and that type of passion needs to carry over to the rest of the team. Enter Roy Hibbert.
The 7'2'' Hibbert looks the part of a gentle giant, but tonight may have shown a tenacity in the paint that will be necessary once the games really matter. If Hibbert can throw down dunks like he was throwing around Stephen Curry the Pacers will end up on a crash course with the Miami Heat in the Eastern Finals. Quite frankly I don't think Chris Bosh wants to go seven rounds in the paint with Mr. Hibbert.
Now let me point out in closing that I don't condone NBA players fighting. However if a small melee breaks out I don't think it's the end of the world. If anything those players involved have shown their teams that they're leaving it all on the court and that the game truly matters to them. Not to mention the added trust between teammates when they stand up for one another in emotionally charged moments. Trust me once the Playoffs start April 20th, there's going to be plenty of those moments.....